June 20, 2023

Sandra ’86 and Mike Wilkinson ’86 met in a fashion that every engineer dreams about: in the computer lab. Mike, an engineering technology student, and Sandra, an educational curriculum and instruction major, dated for a short time in Aggieland before making the decision to just be friends. “We went on a date and then said, ‘neh,’” Sandra recalled. “But we stayed friends and always talked about how we wanted to go into business with each other.” 

Talk turned into reality when Sandra and Mike established Paragon Innovations a short four months after their “neh” turned into “I do” at their wedding in August 1990. “I moved to Houston after graduation but wanted to move to Dallas. I knew Mike was up there, so I gave him a call,” Sandra explained. “We started dating again, and I suppose the rest is history.” 

Set With ESET and Education 

Mike became interested in electronics at a young age, always curious about the mechanics behind the world around him. Toward the end of high school and throughout college, he worked for several electronics and software companies. “PCs and computers weren’t really a thing back then. I guess you could say I got into software before it was cool,” Mike added with a laugh. To pursue his passion for engineering electronics, he saw only one path ahead of him. “I applied to one place, the only place: Texas A&M and its top-notch engineering program.”  

In his first class as an electrical engineering major, he was partnered on a project with a professor who was taking the class alongside students. Due to limited access to computer labs, the pair bonded over the hours they spent coding outside of the classroom. Since most of the project was completed on their personal computers, the class instructor was blown away that they had finished it with such little lab time and accused the duo of cheating before she realized that Mike was paired with Dr. George Wright, a well-respected faculty member.  

"Once I joined the board, it was impossible not to get more involved.”
- Mike Wilkinson '86

Long before the CRUT, the couple was already generously volunteering their time and expertise. They reconnected with their alma mater in 2005, when the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship started the Aggie 100 Award. Sandra and Mike were nominated as recipients in the award’s inaugural year and were invited to speak to students in Mike’s program, ESET. He was invited back several times after that and received two more Aggie 100 awards before joining the advisory board for the McFerrin Center. “Once I joined the board, it was impossible not to get more involved.” 

From there, the Wilkinsons’ involvement as former students flourished, leading them to buy a house in Aggieland to cut down on their travel from Dallas. During one of Mike’s talks with the ESET program, Sandra was also asked to teach a course. The two taught what they call “engineering life skills,” which included simple things like reading a balance sheet, understanding cash flow, handling taxes and navigating the basics of business. Mike also serves on the Aggie Angel Network Advisory Council, which invests in small, startup businesses, often Aggie-owned, while Sandra is the chair of the Aggie STEM board overseeing all STEM camps in the School of Education and Human Development.

Still salaried employees of Paragon, the couple plans to retire as early as next year to invest even more time in Texas A&M through guest lecturing, committees and any other opportunities—giving back in innovative and efficient ways, just like everything else they’ve accomplished.  

Their generosity with volunteering time is mirrored in their CRUT just as much as it is their two current gifts: a George Wright Capstone Endowment honoring Mike’s lab partner turned mentor, and the Gaddis Girls STEM Camp, an all-girls summer STEM camp for middle and high school-aged girls, named after Sandra’s maiden name to memorialize her father’s encouragement for women in STEM. “Back in the ’70s, girls were not encouraged to pursue math and science careers,” Sandra explained. “My dad was adamant that everyone, regardless of gender, should have an opportunity to learn.” 

With their immense involvement in three diverse areas of campus—education, entrepreneurship and engineering—the Wilkinsons have recognized that there is more than one area they’re passionate about giving toward. “If you are thinking about getting involved with Texas A&M again like we did, you should know that it has changed a lot,” Sandra shared. “The core values are, of course, still foundational to the university, but it’s changed in the best ways possible to help students be more prepared and competitive in whatever they choose to do after graduation.” 

Giving back to Aggieland is a “no fail” investment. Learn how you can create your own unique planned gift like Sandra and Mike by contacting Kevin Westerman ’11 below.